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Focus on Freedom

The Beginning of a Start? Maybe

I (Kitty Antonik Wakfer) have wondered for the past couple of months if the actions of a particular young man and the ensuing discussion and now publicized legal arguments will mushroom into the beginning of a start towards mainstream attention on the philosophical problems with government. Maybe.... if the discussion gets to some of the basics.

Ehren Watada, a 28 year old First Lieutenant submitted his formal resignation from the Army last January; it was denied in early June. At that time Watada informed his commanding officer and then publicly announced that he would not join his outfit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Stryker Brigade Combat Team, when it departed from Fort Lewis in Washington state for Iraq at the end of the month. In July Lt. Watada was charged with missing troop movements, contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer. He did not and has no plans to seek conscientious objector status; his objection is not to all wars or to the military in general. He has explained in interviews and speeches that when he joined the Army as an officer candidate after graduation from Hawaii Pacific University in 2003, he accepted the reasons for the invasion of Iraq given by President Bush. However, since early 2005 he had studied the situation carefully, concluding and publicly stating that the occupation violates the Constitution, international law and Army regulations. He has said that reasons given by Bush for the invasion were "lies" and that the military action by the US government in Iraq is "illegal" additionally because it was not approved by the United Nations. Among the pieces of evidence reportedly presented by the Prosecutor in the military hearing (preceding a possible courts martial) August 17 was a tape of Ehren Watada speaking the previous Saturday at the Veterans for Peace national convention in Seattle. There he voiced what he termed "a radical idea. It is one born from the very concept of the American soldier. It became instrumental in ending the Vietnam War -- but it has been long since forgotten. The idea is this: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it."

Yes, the suggestion that soldiers - as well as sailors, airmen, marines and any others - simply refuse to fight in a war of aggression (rather than one of true defense) is radical for most people - although I have written on this very subject myself. The vast majority of individuals in the US fall into two groups. The first and still largest is comprised of those who think that in some way the US government actions in Iraq are justified, understandable, warranted, necessary, reasonable, etc. to prevent terrorism from further advances onto the shores of the US itself, provide the Iraqi people with "democracy", maintain stability in the middle east, etc., etc. These individuals either believe that the reasons given to the US public (and everyone else in the world) are true or that, effectively, truth is immaterial and government leaders know what is best. The second group, while growing in numbers, is primarily made up of people who distrust the justifications given for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, want the military action to stop, and voice their displeasure verbally and/or in writing to friends, news editors and/or politicians. The urging by those in this group is for the President to order the troops out of Iraq, immediately or within some clearly defined time frame. However, once an individual suggests that military members stop enforcing George Bush's orders in Iraq (passed down through the chain of command), s/he has become one of the currently very small minority who realize that without soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who are actually committing acts of aggression, the Chief Executive, his assistants and associates must either acknowledge their impotence or perform the acts themselves (the latter being, of course, highly unlikely). While the President might claim that the "the buck stops here", insinuating that he is responsible for all the actions taken in his name, whether or not he has issued an order, no such statement can eliminate the immediate causal responsibility and moral culpability of those who actually perform the actions.

Self-responsibility is an element that Ehren Watada alludes to in an interview in early June, especially at its conclusion.

"The moment we tell ourselves that we no longer have that choice is the moment we take that one freedom [of choice] away. The only freedom we have. And I just want to tell everybody, especially people who doubt the war, that you do have that one freedom. And that's something that they can never take away. Yes. They will imprison you. They'll throw the book at you. They'll try to make an example out of you, but you do have that choice. And that is something that you'll have to live with for the rest of your life."

Each individual is responsible for his/her (hir) own actions irrespective of who in the name of what entity issues orders. And of course, young men and women in the US can choose not to enlist in the military at all, especially in a political and philosophical atmosphere where the government uses force routinely (or the threat of it) overtly and covertly to alter free exchanges between individuals virtually everywhere on this planet. In addition, the interference by government in the voluntary interactions of individuals is rampant inside the US and paid for by money stolen (taxed) from the actual victims and others. The actions of those who initiate or threaten initiation of force as part of internal government agencies are morally equivalent to the members of the military actively engaged in acts of harm in other countries.

Responsibility for one's own actions is a basic requirement for a truly peaceful society, but unfortunately it is also a feature mostly missing in all national societies that currently exist, whether relatively free and stable, or highly chaotic. Governments are viewed by most as the creator and the only possible protector of social order, and even the best supplier of many of the necessities of life - but they fail to see that same government as, on the one hand, akin to a parent of children who have not been taught, have not leaned, and refuse to be responsible for themselves, and on the other, akin to the mafia. Laws are passed, regulations are promulgated, edicts/orders/commands are issued - and enforcers of the numerous government agencies go forth inside the country or beyond putting them into effect all without any effort to convince people why such laws and regulations will actually lead to greater happiness for all, let alone to actually validate such arguments. The logic that when the military enforcers refuse to fight an aggressive war, the war will cease, extends to other actions by government, which always makes use of force or threat of it and therefore requires enforcers for its continued potent existence. When growing numbers of individuals resign their jobs as enforcers - police, customs agents, border guards, drug enforcement agents, tax agents, FDA regulation enforcers, etc - and few can be hired to replace them, then the legislators/executors at all levels will either have to take up the reins of enforcement themselves or acknowledge their impotence to rule others.

Chaos is not the inevitable result of the absence of rulers as most people currently think. A society of individuals interacting to mutual benefit, each with the purpose of maximizing hir own lifetime happiness would require few if any enforcers. Instead, the vast majority would be people who would never seek to initiate force on their neighbors (or strangers) and would even be wanting to restitute whenever they caused harm because they understood that both of these actions were conducive to their own longest range widest viewed interest. Those few who would intentionally or with carelessness cause harm would be treated negatively by all others - socially preferenced against - to the degree of the unrestituted harm that they had caused, as judged by each other individual. The principles of such a society need to be understood - the destination must be determined before the journey begins - and they have been described in the essay, "Social Meta-Needs: A New Basis for Optimal Human Interaction".

Getting from Here to There - a society based on the principles of Social Meta-Needs - will not be fast or easy, mainly because there are still few people who can envision a stable and prosperous geographical area without a government - without an entity producing order by means of force. But just as children can learn to productively live without the presence of varying degrees of parental carrot and stick, adult individuals can further develop full self-responsibility and orderly association for exchange to mutual advantage - shunning the welfare, enforcement and warfare state. In their own best interest, each would preferentially associate with those who think and act likewise while shunning those who refuse to be self-responsible.

Publicly refusing to be a participant in the current US military actions in Iraq - especially as a member of the military - could be a beginning on the path to "There". Supporting and encouraging the same action by others currently in the military and also by those in other government enforcement agencies will amplify that beginning. A significant decrease in recruits for the military and other government enforcement agencies would be a very encouraging sign that a start had truly begun.